that of Malik Paul The journey to the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships is one of a mother’s hardship, sacrifice, determination, faith and love. The South Carolina graduate student will travel to Eugene, Oregon next week for the first time after qualifying for the NCAA Regional last week. Not bad for an old walk-on who was struggling to find food a few years earlier.
“My mother (Bernadette) is my rock,” said Paul. “She’s a single mom. She works at Walmart. She had to raise three boys on her own. My two older brothers are 13 and 11 years older than me, so they left the house a little earlier. Me and her. It was not easy, she urged me to transfer here.
“I came here with no money. It was a challenge. I didn’t have a meal plan either, so my mom and I scrimped, just trying to make ends meet, doing everything I could to keep my money going. less trying to get a meal in some time. “
Paul graduated from West Ashley High School in Charleston where he competed in football and track and field. He started throwing the discus as a junior and initially got interested in athletics to stay fit for football. It turned out to be a solid choice as he won a regional championship in his event.
“At first I started doing high jumps and hurdles, and I got a little stinky,” Paul said with a laugh. “So they said, take the record and throw it away. That’s how it all started.
“This is the part of competing with yourself that I love. Once you step into the ring, nothing really matters but what you do. outside forces. There is nothing that can try to stop you other than yourself. It’s all about what you do. “
Paul began his college career at USC Beaufort where he qualified twice for the NAIA Championships and was the Sun Conference Field MVP in 2018.
“My original plan was to go to USC Beaufort for two years and then be transferred,” said Paul. “My first year, all I could throw was maybe 140 feet with the varsity disc, and then out of nowhere I threw 160. It was a big mark, so I started to think I could do that well. ”
“You don’t have to do anything on your own. There is always someone you can talk to.”
Although he received a partial scholarship at USC Beaufort, Paul felt he needed it and wanted more, so he decided to transfer.
“My old friend (and high school teammate) Darrell Singleton (2017-2020) went here, and I started hitting him because I started to see the throwing space they had here, and I saw what (Josh) Awotunde (2014-2018) was doing, and I saw what (graduate student teammate) Eric (Favors) was doing. “
Paul transferred to South Carolina after two years and joined the Gamecocks as a replacement. He qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Regional in his debut season with the Gamecocks in 2019, but life hasn’t been easy.
“I knew it was going to be hard to go somewhere where I got money (from the scholarship) and go somewhere with no money and try to make ends meet and get help from ( Bernadette) to pay my rent and everything, ”Paul said. “She didn’t want me to take a job. She wanted me to focus on the right path, and she said she would help do whatever she could to support me and make sure I could. one day get a scholarship.
“It was definitely harder to compete because there were so many people who were extremely better than me. I was a big fish coming out of a small pond. That was the hard part about it. . ”
His mother continued to encourage him through difficult times. Eventually, the hard work and sacrifice started to pay off.
“I ended up getting a full scholarship for my fourth semester here in the spring of 2020,” Paul said. “To be honest, that was before I really did anything to be able to win a scholarship like this.”
Paul has improved a lot and during the 2020 indoor season he won his event in three games and was fourth at the SEC Indoor Championships in the shot put. After seeing the outdoor season canceled last year due to the pandemic, he suffered a setback with a concussion last fall that affected him both physically and mentally during the indoor season this year.
“These are my mom’s prayers and I have also spoken to a therapist,” Paul said of his recovery and is an advocate for seeking professional mental health help. “I also have a mentor that I talk to. Not being alone and talking to people helps not to get out of hand.
“If you have faith, talk to God, and also to someone else. I believe that God has put people in your life for a reason. You are not supposed to experience anything through yourself- even. have to go through anything on your own. There is always someone you can talk to. “
He continued to work hard and he was rewarded again by qualifying for the NCAA Outdoor Regional in Jacksonville, Fla., Where he landed his ticket to the national championships last week.
“The first thing that came to my mind was that it finally happened! My mother is a great believer in Christ and a great believer in God. She was telling me for several days that God had told her that Malik had a win, and that he’s going to win. We’ve both been through a lot in the last few years.
“Just to get it done and have it there,” Paul continued before stopping to think of his mother. “She got out of work around 4am, and she and a few friends drove five hours just to come see me. It made it all the more special that she made this huge sacrifice, and I was able to do it.”
As he prepares for the nationals, Paul won’t just be happy to be there, because he won’t be thinking only of himself on the big stage.
“I think about her a lot,” Pail said. “Sometimes when I get mad and get discouraged and feel like I’m not doing well, then I think about her. I think about what she has done for me, and I think to all the sacrifices she made for me to be able to do this and it gets me going right away, that’s one of the main inspirations to get me to this point.
“I’m going to make it a great experience because the first battle was doing it. Now I’m going over there to win.”
The NCAA Outdoor Championships are June 9-12.